I’ve heard so many people say this period of quarantine is such a fabulous opportunity to hit some healthy goals, get back to cooking from scratch and reawaken our appreciation for the small stuff – yet if your life is anything like mine, that’s not what’s happening out in the field.
My WhatsApp groups are lighting up with very different concerns: Is anyone dressing before noon? How does one disable a laptop webcam to avoid your boss knowing you’re using the ironing board as a desk?
We know the new rules: social distance, eat whatever immune-boosting foods you can get your hands on, stay home.
But, however, many positive additions we make to that halo-topped side of the equation, there are new, negative temptations – sleeping late; snacking all day; spending 24/7 glued to our screens – threatening to throw us off balance.
It’s what you might call the lockdown health maths challenge.
It’s a particular challenge for those of us long-used to working from home; our routines thrown out of kilter by the rest of our housemates who are missing the camaraderie of office or school. It’s nice to have breakfast together, sure, but you want lunch, too? And who’s making that?
How on earth do we get a grip and make the sums balance?
The key thing to understand, says Nick Potter, osteopath and author of The Meaning of Pain, is that our bodies and minds are acting as though it’s 4,000 BC, not 2020AD.
‘Humans are primed to respond to danger,’ says Potter. ‘Right now, it’s like we are stuck on a plain, about to be attacked by wolves.
‘Our brains know what to do: release adrenalin to set off a chain reaction inside the body, which will make us able to respond with either fight or flight. We start to hyperventilate, breathing from the top of the lungs and tensing our muscles for action.’
The problem-solving, logical part of the brain is parked for now, to allow our instincts to take over. The problem, says Potter, is there are no wolves to deal with.
‘Instead, this virus requires us to do the opposite of what we are programmed to do. We have to breathe deeply to keep calm and support our lung health, and we need to eat properly and rest, taking our time so we can make sensible, well-thought out decisions.’
It’s advice that chimes with all the different areas of our life, which currently may be in debit rather than credit. Here are some ways to redress the balance...
With a growing realisation that we can only shop for essentials, many of us are making meals from scratch again, with many cooks offering wonderful self-isolation recipes for free online.
So how come we’re also snacking as though storing up fat for winter?
‘We find it intolerable to live in fear and feeling out of control,’ explains Michelle Scott, psychotherapist at The Recovery Centre (TRC Group). ‘It’s quite natural that when we feel starved or deprived, then we binge eat or panic shop. We want to fill ourselves up.’
More than that, food is a common way to feel comforted: ‘It takes us back to childhood. We know that treats and comforts will numb feelings.’
So how can we get back in balance? ‘We need to talk to each other and explore our feelings rather than just eat them away,’ she suggests. Or treat yourself like a child, and pack yourself a daily snack box.
It’s all very well thinking that you can just grab a laptop and spend the day on the sofa, but that’s asking for trouble. Peering forward at a screen can be particularly bad: ‘For every inch forward your chin protrudes,’ says Potter, ‘your head weighs an extra 10 pounds.’
Sitting or slumping at odd angles for long periods causes muscle imbalance and cartilage pressure that can cause headaches, dizziness and neck and lower-back problems.
The answer, says Potter, is not just in making sure you are sitting properly (upright position, top of the screen at eye level, feet flat on the floor) but also remembering to breathe. ‘It’s never been more important to breathe deeply,’ he says, as viruses and bacteria get trapped in the mucous lining of the deepest part of the lungs. ‘When you exhale properly, those cells get stirred up and expelled. It’s necessary for your immune system.’
While shallow breathing leads to tension in the chest, neck and shoulder, breathing deeply can help our muscles to relax – possibly even our overactive minds, too.
The Daily Telegraph
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